How to protect your bike while travelling

Travelling with a bike can be daunting but with these tips you can keep it safer during journeys

Clock16:28, Monday 9th October 2023

Going on a cycling holiday has never been easier and it’s now possible to ride in dream locations or take part in events all over the world. Unless you plan on renting a bike, going on a cycling holiday will mean taking your bike with you, which can be daunting - we’ve all seen over-zealous baggage handlers throwing luggage about at the airport.

But fear not! GCN’s Ollie Bridgewood is lucky enough to travel all over the world with his bike so he knows a thing or two about keeping a shiny steed safe during transit. Here are his top tips - and yes, he did learn some of these the hard way.

Use a high-quality hard case

Starting with the most important part of the travelling equation: the bike box. This will be responsible for keeping your bike protected throughout the journey, so it needs to be robust and high quality.

We’d always choose a hard case over a soft case or cardboard box as, as the name suggests, they’re more sturdy and offer higher levels of protection - we’ve said it once but we’ll say it again, luggage handlers aren’t known for their soft touch.

Cheaper isn’t always better, either. You’ve likely spent a lot of money on your shiny bike, so it deserves the best level of protection possible. A really cheap option might end up costing you more in the long run if it leads to expensive parts broken, and expensive holidays spoiled.

How to pack a bike

Even if you have the best case possible, if you don’t pack your bike correctly, you’ll soon run into trouble.

The most vulnerable area of a bike is the rear derailleur, specifically the hanger, which can be bent by any knocks or simply if something else in the bag is pressing up against it. Some bike bags, like Ollie’s Topeak, are specifically designed to accommodate the rear derailleur and the disc brake rotors, so these don’t need to be removed. Most aren’t designed this way and for these, you’ll need to remove both the rear derailleur and disc rotors.

Once you’ve finished removing them and your bikes in the bag, don’t simply throw the tools in with it - that’s a quick-fire way to damage a frame. Place them either with other baggage (not carry-on as they won’t be allowed) or, one of Ollie’s top tips, in a water bottle where they’ll be nice and secure.

Finally, add an extra layer of protection by wrapping the frame. Foam is a great choice for this and most bikes will have some hanging around that they’re eager to get rid of. You can even tactically place clothing in the bag in areas of concern to add an extra layer of cushioning - as a bonus, it’ll mean you’ll be able to pack more in your other luggage.

Assemble with care

You’ve reached your destination and, eager to go out riding, quickly set about assembling your bike. In your haste, you accidentally knock your bike over as you’re assembling it, damaging the frame. It’s a nightmare scenario, but one that can easily happen without a bit of care, especially when the wheels are removed and the bike is unstable.

The task can be made more tricky if you don’t have a bike stand which, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly easy to squeeze into luggage. Offering a solution, some bike bags have small stands built in. If your bag doesn’t have this luxury, try to be careful when assembling the bike.

In their haste to start riding, many cyclists also strip or over-tighten bolts. You can avoid this by using a torque wrench. Smaller portable options are available, but regular ones are usually small enough to carry in luggage too.

Finally, if your bike has electronic shifting, the battery will usually be located in the seatpost. The seatpost will need to be removed before travelling, so be careful when pulling it out of the frame, and just as importantly, don’t crush any of the cables when you insert it back in. It’s a mistake Ollie has made before and, trust us, it’s a costly and inconvenient mistake to make.

Don’t lose any accessories

We’ve focussed on the big thing, but bikes also have lots of little parts like bolts, spacers and headset clamps. If you lose any of these you’ll find yourself in a bit of a quandary as it can be hard to source very specific parts for a bike.

Keep these parts all together in a sealable bag so that nothing escapes. Don’t leave any loose bolts on your bike either, like the seatpost clamp. Once the seatpost is removed, this can work its way free, leaving you mystified by how a bolt has seemingly done a disappearing act in a sealed bag.

While we’re on the subject of small parts, take a spare rear mech hanger with you. If even after all of these preventative measures it still gets damaged, you’ll then be prepared and it won’t scupper any of your plans.

Don’t completely deflate tyres

Airlines require tyres to be deflated while flying. This is to prevent them from exploding, as the lower pressure at altitude increases the pressure in a tyre - although the likelihood of it happening is slim.

You don’t need to completely deflate them, especially if you’re using a tubeless setup as sealant will leak everywhere. Leave enough air in so that the tyre remains seated to the rim and the sealant is secure. You should then only need a regular pump to inflate it at your destination. If the tyre unseats, it’s usually much more difficult to get it inflated and seated on the rim and will require a strong track pump or CO2 canister which you may not have available.

Special mentions

That’s our main top tips covered, but here are a few quick-fire things to be aware of:

  • If you have an electronic system, remove or disconnect the battery before travelling. Pack your charger too so that you can charge the battery if it goes dead.
  • As mentioned before, raid your local bike shape for foam tubing. All bikes are delivered with this so most bike shops will have plenty that they’ll dispose of anyway.
  • Invest in reusable zip ties. They can be used to secure padding to the bike and, as an added bonus, are more environmentally friendly than disposable alternatives.
  • Finally, remove your computer and pedals and carry them in your hand luggage. If the worst happens and your bike gets lost in transit, you’ll at least be able to hire a bike, pairing it with the pedals and head unit.

Are there any other tips you would add to this list? Let us know in the comments. And for more tech news, advice and pro bikes, head over to the tech section on the GCN website, linked here.

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